Anti-US feelings rising: Pew chief

9/11 : 5 YEARS ON

What have been the major changes in perceptions towards America since 9/11?

In 2002, when we did our first survey, we said that the image of the US was slipping all around the world.

After the war in Iraq, the image of the United States had plummeted all around the world.

What we have shown is that, ever since, anti-Americanism is entrenched in many places.

It involves not just dislike of the policies of President George W. Bush, but also suspicion and resentment of American power.

What are sources of this rising and virulent anti-Americanism?

Our surveys have found that anti-Americanism around the world is driven foremost by US foreign policy. There is a feeling that the US acts unilaterally on the world stage.

Also, our surveys in several countries show that in making foreign policy decisions, the US pays not too much or not much at all attention to their interests.

There is also a feeling that American policies have increased the gap between rich and poor countries.

The war on Iraq has been a very important correlate of this anti-Americanism. US presence in Iraq remains widely unpopular.

A survey we did in five nations in 2004 showed majorities that believed that their country’s decision not to use force in the Iraqi conflict was the right one.

Majorities also think the war has made the world a more dangerous place. Attitudes are also shaped by how the US deals with the Arab-Israeli dispute, especially in the Muslim world. A 2003 Pew Our Global Attitudes poll found that large numbers in the Arab and Muslim countries believed that the US favours Israel too much.

This included 90 per cent in Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco and Lebanon.

Recent surveys have found strongly negative views towards Jews in the Arab world. Besides this, discontent with the war on terrorism has led to increased anti-Americanism since 9/11.

Our Global Attitudes survey in 2002 found that the war on terror drew more opposition from Arab and other Muslim-majority countries than elsewhere.

Although the degree of opposition in specific countries has fluctuated somewhat over time, the overall picture is clear: the US has not won the battle for Muslim public opinion on this important issue.

Has the recent war in Lebanon polarised attitudes further?

We have not done polling on this yet but one can only speculate that it has. The US is seen as a principal backer of Israel. Disapproval of Israel translates into disapproval of the US.

With the hostilities in the Middle East, there is a high probability that the Arab and the Muslim world has grown even more antagonistic towards America.

Do you expect attitudinal changes in the Muslim world with the Bush administration recasting the global war on terror into a war on “Islamic fascism”?

In a word, no. I don’t think that kind of rhetoric changes attitudes.

Most people in the US are convinced that terrorists are bad people. It makes no difference whether you call them fascists. Worldwide, it is the actions of the American government, and the consequences of these actions, which will change opinion.

If Iraq begins to stabilise and the US can withdraw and it becomes a better place than it was during the time of Saddam Hussein, then the image of US in the Muslim world will improve.

If the US can help Israel and Palestine come to some sort of agreement that will stop the bloodshed, then the image of the US will improve. It is actions, not words, that will have a bearing on American image.

Is support for terrorism rising or on the decline among Muslims worldwide?

Morocco, Jordan, Indonesia and Turkey have seen less support for suicide bombings and Osama Bin Laden since 2002.

These are mainly countries that have had their own experience of terrorism. Take Jordan, for example. Most recently, the percentage of people supporting suicide bombing dropped from 50 per cent to 25 per cent in our poll in 2005.

Now, 25 per cent is still a very big a number but it does register a decline in support.

They are declining because people see in their own countries the horrors of terrorism.

The terrorist attack at the wedding in Jordan last year was a horrible event. It is one thing for these events to take place in a faraway country like

America and other Western oppressors. But if it happens in their country, however, it will have a bearing on their perceptions.

Another sign that support for terrorism may be fading is that opinions of Osama have turned more negative in several countries.

One important point needs to be highlighted in conjunction with concerns about extremism in the Middle East.

It does not mean that Arabs and Muslims in the region reject a role for Islam in politics.

In most of the countries, except Jordan, people see Islam playing a larger part in politics than it did a few years ago. They see it as a positive development.

If support for terrorism is waning, then why has Al-Qaeda been so successful in franchising its operations for a global jihad against America and the West?

It really does not take mass support to recruit terrorists.

Have your surveys found broad support or opposition to democracy among predominantly Muslim public?

There is broad support for democracy. Surveys done in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Morocco tell us that for these countries, democracy is not just a Western way of governance.

They want free press, freedom of expression and party elections. Now, what constitutes a free press or freedom of expression may be different in these countries than the West but they certainly accept the concept.

Much has been written about the “hardening” of attitudes towards the US overseas. What about American perceptions towards the Muslim world, particularly as it appears that American society is also somewhat polarised between the conservative religious right and liberals?

I don’t think the differences and attitudes towards the Muslims in this country have much to do with polarisation. Americans have broadly favourable views of Muslims.

There hasn’t been a lot of backlash. What we do see is that Americans and other Westerners associate Muslims with violence, fanaticism and intolerance.

They are sceptical about the values of people in Muslim countries – that they really want democracy. And they tend to estimate more support for terrorism in the Muslim world than people in Muslim countries express.

Are there limits on how much the US can achieve in turning around its unpopular image in the Muslim world?

Much depends on whether conditions will change for issues that significantly affect global perceptions towards the US.

Principally, these are the war in Iraq and the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Also important is whether we can get to a point in the war on terrorism where the US and other Western countries feel secure and they are not on a hunt or in an aggressive mode as much as they are now.

In the end, it is only reaction to major policies that can move the needle. But these are things that will take time.

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